Insulin resistance increases your risk for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. A diagnosis of insulin resistance is also an early warning sign. You may be able to prevent diabetes with healthy lifestyle choices, including regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.

Generally, it’s best to choose whole, unprocessed foods and avoid highly processed and prepared foods.

Foods that are highly processed, such as white breads, pastas, rice, and soda, digest very quickly and can spike blood sugar levels. This puts extra stress on the pancreas, which makes the hormone insulin.

Your body is blocking the insulin from working correctly to lower blood sugar levels for people who are insulin resistant.

Saturated fats have also been associated with insulin resistance. Healthy, unsaturated fats, such as those recommended below, are a better choice. Eating high-fiber foods and mixed meals, not just carbohydrates alone, can help slow digestion and take pressure off the pancreas.

Here are some foods that you can mix and match to create satisfying healthy dishes for any meal.

Vegetables

Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, making them an ideal food to help you manage your blood sugar. The best vegetable options are:

  • fresh
  • low-sodium canned
  • frozen

Healthy options include:

  • tomatoes
  • asparagus
  • green beans
  • carrots
  • colorful peppers
  • greens such as spinach, collards, cabbage and kale
  • cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts

Vegetable juices may seem healthy, but they tend to be not as filling and aren’t as fibrous as fresh vegetables.

Fruits

Munch on some fruit for:

  • fiber
  • vitamins
  • minerals

Choose fresh or frozen fruits. Canned varieties without added sugars are fine also, but they don’t have the fiber that fresh and frozen fruits do since the skins are removed.

Go for fruits that are higher in fiber, such as:

  • apples
  • berries
  • bananas
  • grapes
  • plums
  • peaches

Avoid fruit juices since they can raise blood sugar as quickly as regular soda. Even the unsweetened juices or those labeled “no sugar added” are high in natural sugars.

Dairy

Dairy gives you the calcium you need to help promote strong teeth and bones. Choose lower fat, unsweetened milk and yogurt. Skip whole milk and full-fat yogurts because a high intake of saturated fat, found in animal fats, has been linked to insulin resistance.

If you’re lactose intolerant, try an unsweetened alternative milk like fortified soy milk or lactose- free cow’s milk options. Rice and almond milk are also alternative milk options, but they have very little protein or nutritional value.

Whole grains

Whole-grain foods are fine for people with insulin resistance. They’re rich in:

  • vitamins
  • fiber
  • mineral

Some people believe that avoiding all carbohydrates is important to prevent diabetes, but healthy, whole, unprocessed carbohydrate sources are actually a good fuel source for your body. However, it’s still necessary to control portions of these healthier options.

It’s important to focus on choosing healthy, unprocessed grains as much as possible. It’s also helpful to eat these foods as a mixed meal, with protein and fat, as these can help you avoid blood sugar spikes.

To get the recommended amount of nutrients, aim for products that list whole-grain ingredients first on the label.

Examples are:

  • whole-wheat or stone-ground whole grain
  • whole oats and oatmeal
  • bulgur
  • whole-grain corn or corn meal
  • brown rice

You can also look for:

Beans and legumes

Beans are an excellent source of fiber. They raise blood sugar levels slowly, which is a plus for people with insulin resistance. Some good options are:

  • pinto
  • lima
  • red and black beans

If you’re short on time, canned beans are a good alternative to dried beans. Just make sure to drain and rinse canned beans or choose the “no salt added” options since they can be high in sodium.

Fish

Fish that’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease, a common condition for people with diabetes. Fish rich in omega-3 include:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • herring
  • sardines
  • tuna
  • rainbow trout

Tilapia, cod, flounder, halibut, and haddock are also good for you, but they’re lower in omega-3 since they’re lower in total fat. Shellfish fans can enjoy:

  • lobster
  • scallops
  • shrimp
  • oysters
  • clams
  • crabs

However, as with all foods, limit fish that’s breaded or fried. If you choose to eat fried fish, make sure that it’s cooked in a healthier oil.

Poultry

To keep your poultry consumption healthy, peel and toss the skin. Poultry skin has much more fat than the meat. The good news is, you can cook with the skin on to maintain moistness and then remove it before you eat it.

Try:

  • chicken breasts
  • Cornish hen
  • turkey

Other lean protein

As long as they’re lean, protein such as pork, veal, lamb, and beef are fine if you have insulin resistance. You should opt for:

  • pork tenderloin or center loin chops
  • veal loin chops or roasts
  • lamb chops, roasts, or legs
  • choice or select lean beef with the fat trimmed

Ground beef with lower fat content is available. You can substitute ground turkey.

Vegetarian protein sources could be great options as well. Good choices include:

Healthy fats

Choose healthy unsaturated fat sources. These fats can slow down digestion and provide essential fatty acids.

Nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters offer:

  • healthy fats
  • magnesium
  • protein
  • fiber

Nuts and seeds are also low in carbohydrates, which will benefit anyone trying to manage their blood sugar.

Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids are also found in some nuts and seeds like flax seeds and walnuts. But be careful. Nuts, while very healthy, are also high in calories. They can add too many calories to your diet if they’re not properly portioned.

Be mindful of how nuts and seeds are prepared. Some snacks, as well as nut and seed butters, contain added sodium and sugar. This could increase the calories and decrease the nutritional value of the nuts or nut butter.

Avocados and olives are also ideal choices. Cooking with olive oil instead of solid fats is recommended.

Regular exercise can help prevent diabetes by:

  • lowering your blood sugar
  • trimming body fat
  • reducing weight

It also helps your cells become more sensitive to insulin.

You don’t have to complete a triathlon to get fit. Anything that gets you moving qualifies as exercise. Do something you enjoy such as:

  • gardening
  • walking
  • running
  • swimming
  • dancing

Keep moving to burn calories and keep your blood glucose levels on target. New guidelines suggest breaking up sitting time every half hour.

Even if you’re short on time, you can easily incorporate short bouts of activity into your day.

At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk around the block during your lunch hour. At home, play a game of catch with your kids or walk in place as you watch television. When you’re running errands, park far enough away from your destination to get a good walk in.

Exercise adds up — 10 minutes three times a day adds up to 30 minutes of movement.

Being obese or overweight increases your risk for diabetes and diabetes-related complications. However, losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk for health problems, while also helping control your glucose levels.

A 2002 study showed that losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight might help reduce your risk for diabetes by more than 50 percent.

Recent follow-up studies have shown that weight loss of 7 to 10 percent provides maximum prevention of type 2 diabetes. For example, if your starting weight is 200 pounds, losing 14 – 20 pounds will make a huge difference.

The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn and to exercise regularly each day.

It’s important to be realistic in your eating plan and exercise schedule. Set small goals that are achievable and specific.

For example, start with one healthy change to your diet and one addition to your activity level. Remember, losing weight won’t happen overnight. Weight loss is easier than maintaining that weight loss long term. Taking the time to establish new lifestyle habits is essential.

Many people don’t know they have insulin resistance until it develops into type 2 diabetes.

If you’re at risk for prediabetes or diabetes, ask your doctor to test for it. Checking your hemoglobin A1c level can help identify insulin resistance or prediabetes earlier than a standard fasting blood sugar.

If you discover insulin resistance early, you can make important changes to reduce your risk for developing diabetes and serious health complications that can come with it.

Remember to consult your doctor or dietitian before changing your diet or exercise routine. They can help you create a healthy meal plan and an exercise regimen that best suits your needs.